View From the Road

A View From the Road: Improper Factions

John Funk | 10 Aug 2009 21:00
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There's an excellent article in Issue 213 of The Escapist about the trials and tribulations of Mythic Entertainment's Warhammer Online. Though by no means out of the game, WAR has been struggling since the get-go, and many have to wonder how a game with such potential could have simply missed the mark. There are countless things that people can point at as responsible for WAR's lack of success, but one thing stands out to me: There are only two player factions.

Now, wait a moment. I know what you're going to say: "But World of Warcraft has only two factions, and it has eleven million subscribers!" Yes, it certainly does, and the factions serve a similar purpose in WoW as they do in WAR. When a player chooses a faction, it helps them establish an identity in the game right off the bat: I am a proud (Race), a member of (Faction A), staunchly opposed to the damnable (Faction B). Right away, you know who you are, who your allies are, and who the game wants you to hate.

This goes beyond the game, too. Watch two strangers find out that they're both WoW players, and I can all but guarantee you that the very next words out of their mouth are some variation on the question, "Horde or Alliance?" If they're part of your faction, then great! You have a common ground and can reminisce about raiding Southshore in the good ol' days in an instant bond. But if they dare say that they're one of the enemy? Well then, you're clearly at odds: How could they ever know the pain of crossing the killing field that was the bridge into the Alliance base in Alterac Valley? It isn't that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, it's that they've always been playing on Easy Mode!

This isn't a bad thing, this is a great thing. By getting players invested in the story of their faction and hating the enemy for the simple reason that they are the enemy, you've immediately drawn them into your game in a way they might not have been otherwise. So what was wrong with Warhammer's factions?

There were only two of them, and there just wasn't enough to do with them.

Unlike in WoW, the idea of (mostly) open-world PVP combat was central to WAR, and was one of the game's biggest selling points. Excited fans dreamed about laying siege to the enemy's bases, assaulting their forts and capturing them for the home team. The rivalry between the factions would play out on the battlefields and territories of the world of Warhammer. Sounds great on paper, right?

It's surprising that no one saw it coming - almost every piece of promotional art made Destruction look absolutely freakin' badass, while Order looked bland and run-of-the-mill. Why be a bald human in a plate dress with a mallet when you could be a lethally sexy Dark Elf or a rampaging Orc? So the game came out, and surprise of surprises, Destruction outnumbered Order on the majority of servers. For Order players, it was frustrating to always be the underdogs, and for Destruction, where was the fun in steamrolling the enemy based on strength of numbers almost every time?

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